While eating right can help with maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk for many chronic conditions, experts also recommend taking probiotics to keep the immune system healthy.
Probiotics are organisms such as bacteria or yeast found in food and supplements that can help digestion and the immune system. Yale University researchers in 2011 found that probiotics are beneficial in treating Chron’s disease, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and boosting the immune system.
Probiotics literally mean “for life” and these good bacteria balance the micro flora of the intestines. According to Dr. W. Allan Walker, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, "The largest component of the immune system in the body resides in the gut ... [and] major stimulus for the normal function of immunity is the bacteria that colonize the intestine."
Probiotics are found in some foods: yogurt with “live and active cultures,” unpasteurized sauerkraut, miso soup, kefir, and tempeh.
Dr. Caitlin O'Connor of All Families Natural Health in Denver, Colorado, encourages daily probiotic supplementation for everyone. Probiotic supplements are found in many grocery stores in the vitamin section in liquid and tablet forms for both adults and children.
Not all probiotic strains are created equal so individuals may need to experiment until settling on the best one for their digestive system. Different probiotic strains can have different effects, so read the labels closely when selecting one.
Probiotics and Medications
Before beginning a probiotic regimen, find out if there is a possibility of interaction with any other medications. “Since probiotics are neither absorbed into the bloodstream nor metabolized by the usual routes in the liver or kidneys, there usually aren’t any negative reactions [to prescription medications],” pharmacist Jo Appelbaum Ludwig notes. Since the FDA considers probiotics to be food products, interactions with medications are few.
Ludwig recommends using probiotics as a healthy supplement when on antibiotic therapy, especially with extended treatments for chronic kidney or bladder infections, or long-term skin infections. “Probiotics supplement, and help manage and support the body's natural healthy organism and flora balance — while the antibiotic does its job killing the bacteria it was intended to target.”
Consult a care provider before beginning any supplement regimens to ensure safety and well-being in individual circumstances.
Learn more about probiotics in this Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide article and at the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website.